Call Your Shot: 3 Essential Business Lessons from a Lifelong Baseball Coach
I have tremendous respect for anyone and everyone who has given time to coaching and training youngsters through youth sports. The time commitment, patience and sacrifice required is not for the faint of heart, and I am grateful to all the coaches I’ve had over my lifetime of playing sports.
One gentlemen in particular, Coach Leroy Murray of my hometown, Antioch, CA, was not only a great baseball coach for more than 40 years(!), but a great life coach as well. He taught those kids more than just how to choke up on a bat—he taught lessons that have resonated in me (and families all over the area) for many years. I’ve applied his wisdom to a multitude of situations—business, personal, and athletic—and these simple principles are a useful reset when the emotional aspect of a situation prevents progress toward overcoming the challenge.
Here are three of my favorite Coach Murrayisms that you can apply to your own business:
1. There are only two things you can control: your attitude, and how hard you work.
I’m a huge believer in personal accountability and an individual’s ability to impact an outcome—positively or negatively. That said, no matter how hard you work, you aren’t going to win every time. When disappointment presented itself, Coach Murray told his team to reflect: “Did I do everything I could, as best I could?” If the answer is yes, he posited, accept the outcome and move on. Your hard work will pay off another way.
Truth is, though, often the answer to that question is no. I didn’t do my best; I overlooked some details; I took shortcuts; I underestimated the competition. If you have the courage to hold yourself accountable, the opportunity for personal growth and development presents itself. It’s in the failings that we learn to improve. We learn to study for the test, to double-check our work, to put the extra time in on the presentation, to take nothing for granted.
As for attitude, take a minute to be disappointed, frustrated and even angry—but only a minute, and consider how you want that to outwardly appear. There is always someone watching. What message are you sending to your boss, your team or your subordinates? How you conduct yourself will tell everyone around you about your maturity, your willingness to take responsibility, and your commitment to the team. Big wins come from a great attitude.
2. You won’t win just because you showed up. Commit—or quit.
A young boy stood at the plate, swinging and missing. Upon striking out, the frustration of failure was enough to bring a tear to his eye—and embarrassment in front of his family, his team and a bunch of strangers was more than he could bear. The boy was inconsolable as he stormed out of the dugout. Coach Murray kept his focus on the game, but afterwards he sat on a bucket, eye-to-eye with the 8-year-old, and spoke to him.
When asked later what he had told the child, Coach Murray said, “I asked him why he was crying and he told me that he was angry he couldn’t hit the ball. I shared with him that there were only two things that could help him not be in that position again. One: practice, so that you have a chance at success and you’ll know you did your best. Or, two: quit, so you never feel embarrassed in that situation again.”
Seems a little heavy for an 8-year-old. But Coach Murray knew that the boy had missed most of the practices and goofed off at the others. Without putting in the work, he expected to be the star of the game come Saturday. People say that showing up is half the battle, but the truth is that practice makes performance. Arriving at the office five minutes before your big pitch without having prepared handouts or notes isn’t going to result in success. Your performance is only as good as what you put into it. If you aren’t willing to commit to the job, you may as well not do it at all.
3. Celebrate all the victories, not just the score.
Victories are hard to come by, so celebrate each and every one. Coach Murray spent more time praising a good throw, great sportsmanship, and strong effort than he did the final score. He used to tell his team: “If you do the little things right, the wins will come.” And it wasn’t just talk—he also knew that when you celebrate something, you receive a chemical “hit” in your brain. That rush of celebrating creates a positive feeling, which reinforces repeating the effort, and with Coach Murray leading those kids through this cycle over and over, the team naturally improved. Tiny wins, acknowledged and encouraged, become big wins. Little habits become big changes.
In your career, it can feel like you go a long time between victories, however you define victories: promotions, project completions, deal closings, revenue goals exceeded, whatever. But those wins don’t happen in a vacuum. As Tom Clancy said, an overnight success is ten years in the making. To prevent burnout and acknowledge every factor that contributed to those major milestones, it’s important to celebrate the small victories along the way. Celebrate collaboration that leads to a breakthrough, effort that goes above and beyond, and attitude that inspires positivity when the moment begs the opposite. Nurturing those qualities may seem a little cheesy or “special snowflake-y” at first, but it creates immeasurable impact long-term.
The common denominator of these Coach Murray lessons: like Babe Ruth, you can call your shot. Let’s face it—in business and in your personal life, you can’t control most of what goes on around you. You can’t control the sun in your eyes, the speed the pitcher is going to throw the ball, the noise of the crowd, or where the ball is going to land. What you can do is show up prepared, take a deep breath, and swing for the bleachers.
So thanks, Coach. You taught that impulsive, unfocused 8-year-old boy a lot. 47 years after playing for the Breswick Bears, I still remember, employ, and pass on your principles. They’ve led me to a lot of victories over the years. Just like you, I’d say that’s worth a celebration.
What kind of lessons have you learned from an unlikely source? Let's chat: firstname.lastname@example.org
Title photo: Crop of “Called Shot,” Painting by Robert Thom for the National Baseball Hall of Fame